Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Lushly a biography Alfred A. Yuson’s “Lineage, Vision, Empire: Don Francisco ‘Paquito’ Ortigas, Jr.”

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One would think that lush storytelling and adroit turns of witty phrase belong in fiction rather than in the creative non-fiction required to tell the story of a life well lived. Then one picks up a delivery at her doorstep of a beautifully hardbound tome, the biography of industrialist Don Francisco “Paquito” Ortigas, Jr., of the illustrious Pasig Ortigases.

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Alfred A. Yuson is a formidable author, with a body of work that spans poetry, fiction both short and long, creative non-fiction, essays and a weekly column in the Philippine Star. His pen has elevated the biography from mere form to art. Don Paquito, too, has elevated living—as per Yuson’s telling of his story.

Art, after all, takes from life—and Yuson did this so brilliantly, raising each aspect of his subject’s life up to the light with both clarity and sheer elegance of prose as only he can pull off.

National Artist NVM Gozalez used to say that the best writing takes the mundane and quotidian and shows off facets to these things that their very ordinariness allow us mortals to elide over and miss. Yuson gives us no such slack. He takes his subject’s story and all it’s small, moving parts and shows us where the fine details make all the difference.

It is the writer’s task to bring the reader’s eyes to where his keen ones focus. Sometimes it is an undertaking that requires much effort and mastery—and Yuson displays this mastery in the biography of Don Paquito, effortlessly.

What you don’t see is all the work that underpins the writing, all the reading the author has had to do. You don’t see his labors when you read the book itself, and that’s where Yuson displays the artistry of the master craftsman he is: Art conceals art, after all, and his efforts toward the finished piece you hold in your hands is none of your concern.

Even people who aren’t fascinated with the world of business and industry, or how its movers and shakers move and shake it will enjoy reading this latest tatak-Yuson work. It reads as beautifully as anything that has ever flowed from his pen.

It is strange to say I could not put this book down. It is literally a heavy tome, molded along the hardbound lines of a coffee-table book. Yet I couldn’t stop reading it once I’d torn off the wrapping and opened it—not simply because Yuson’s writing is gorgeous (I’ve come to expect no less from him, and I have never been disappointed). Don Paquito’s story itself is fascinating, as both a biography and as a bright thread in the history of this country I call home.

The biggest appeal of a biography is that the story of a life—in this case, Don Paquito’s life—will speak to you on an intimate level and show you a person who has taken his humanity and done things with it that you can both relate to and have never thought of doing. By this book’s account, Don PaquitoOrtigas, Jr. lived a full life, one where his character and spiritual growth thrived alongside his constant learning and his business acumen. Here you have the story of a man who was more than a successful entrepreneur: He was also a scholar, a man of elegant words, of very strong character and of deep mindfulness.

Yuson does not glide past things others may deem small in the biography of such a brilliant man. He finds the small treasures that are just as fascinating as the big picture, and makes sure that these are as accessible and easy to find as the other, bigger components of this biography:

“As a writer and author, Paquito Ortigas was fastidious and meticulous, so that one can almost hear the hum of mental faculties when perusing something lengthy that he wrote. A fine example of this would be this article, in the form of a knowledgeable essay on a particular interest that held him rapt throughout and well after the Japanese Occupation. That is involved ersatz currency and the banking system, as well as legal principles, obviously drew not only his fundamental fascination, but loudly rang the bells of his moral training.”

That first paragraph to the fourth chapter of “Lineage, Vision, Empire” speaks to both Yuson’s almost unearthly skill with prose and Don Paquito’s contribution to scholarship about banking in a time of war and occupation.

This is a tome that I wish the general public could have access to, something every public library in the country should have to supplement the lessons of history taught in schools and within the structure of family. It is both a beautiful read and a very deeply informative one: There is so much to learn from the life of one Don Francisco “Paquito” Ortigas, Jr.—on the levels of the personal, the spiritual, the historical and, yes, the industrial.

Brava, Krip Yuson! Thank you for this magnificent new book. G

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